Kings lose weekend games but remain atop of the conference standings
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Kings lose weekend games but remain atop of the conference standings

The team’s lead atop the GOJHL’s Midwestern Conference standings shrunk a little as the Elmira Sugar Kings dropped both ends of a home-and-home series last weekend against the Stratford Warriors.

After dropping a 4-2 decision March 18 in Stratford, the Kings kept things closer Sunday night at the WMC before falling 3-2 in a shootout.

Neither game was the outcome head coach Rob Collins wanted, but he saw plenty of positives given that the team could dress just three defencemen all weekend. Liam Eveleigh was injured, Owen O’Donnell out on COVID protocol and Chris Black was serving a one-game suspension.

“We were playing forward on D and we had guys in positions that they were uncomfortable with and not used to. So absolutely not the outputs we were looking for, but there was a whole heck of a lot of good that our group did to stay competitive all weekend,” said Collins. “We had an opportunity to win both those games just as easily as lose them, so, again, we didn’t get the outputs we’re looking for, but the inputs were really, really good.”

In Stratford last Friday, the Kings fell behind 2-0 before finally getting on the board with a minute and a half left in the opening period. Luke Eurig, assisted by Jack Tos and Jaxson Murray, made it a one-goal game heading into the room for intermission.

And it was Eurig’s second of the game at 1:23 of the middle frame that tied things up, with assists to Murray and Owen Duiker. But that was as close as the Kings would get. Stratford scored on the power play to round out the second, then added another as the lone scoring play in the third to seal the 4-2 victory.

While outshooting the home side 34-27, the Kings were unable to capitalize on their chances, going 0-5 on the power play and failing to score when they pulled goaltender Daniel Botelho with 3:33 to play.

Stratford was 1-9 with the extra man.

Collins noted the Warriors were ready to play from the get-go, with a strong first period that made a difference.

“We had an opportunity to take control the game and a couple power plays too – we weren’t able to do it. So, a lot of credit to Stratford. They came up with a point to prove, and I would say they definitely earned the momentum early in that game, that’s for sure.”

Special teams were a bigger factor two nights later in Elmira. After a scoreless first period, the two sides exchanged goals in the second. The Warriors drew first blood, going up 1-0 at 6:13. Just over three minutes later, however, Jayden Lammel scored a power-play goal, assisted by Adam Grein. It was 1-1 after two.

Just 55 seconds into the final frame, the Warriors regained the lead with a power-play marker. Their 2-1 lead would stand until 12:34, when Elmira’s Daniel Fraleigh responded with a power-play goal of his own, assisted by Lammel and Brock Reinhart. The period would end with the teams deadlocked at 2-2.

Overtime solved nothing, so it was off to the shootout. Nobody could solve either goaltender until the 11th shooter, beat Elmira netminder Matthew Lunghi in the fifth round.

The shot totals reflected to closeness of the game, with Stratford having a slight edge 33-30. The Kings were 2-6 on the power play, while Stratford was 1-8.

“Our special teams were terrific. I thought we got a little bit unlucky with their second goal. I’m not sure if it crossed the line or not. They said it did – we’ve got to trust the officials,” said Collins, praising the efforts of his shorthanded team. “I thought we were terrific at taking care of the controllable stuff.”

By the time the game got to the shootout phase, it was a roll of the dice as to who would win.

“It’s 50-50 at that point. You don’t really deserve to win a shootout if you go 0-5. Matt Lunghi did everything we could ask him, stopping the first four shooters, and we weren’t able to get him that win.”

The Kings are in Brantford Saturday night to face the last-place Bandits (7-34-4), and then return home the following night to welcome the sixth-place Listowel Cyclones (16-23-5-1).

The Caledon Bombers (17-24-1-2) are in Elmira Wednesday night for a midweek tilt.

Four points is the magic number for securing first place ahead of the playoffs, with Collins looking to wind up the season with some strong momentum based on the high compete-level he’s seeing.

“I think if we put that effort forth against any team, we’re going to be tough to beat four out of seven games.”

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